March 24, 2015

Match Corps: High-Dosage Tutoring That Works

By Bellwether

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The success of Match Charter Public School, which serves low-income students in grades preK-12 in Boston, is due in part to the emphasis it places on something rather boring: tutoring. Match’s students receive two full hours of two-on-one tutoring each day through its Match Corps program. All students receive tutoring in math and English; at the high school level, students additionally receive tutoring in the humanities and sciences.
Corps members commit to tutor at the school for a full academic year; they are paid a stipend—approximately $17,000—and receive subsidized housing (some even live in the renovated, dorm-like top floor of Match’s high school). Match has designed its school schedule to seamlessly incorporate students’ tutoring sessions into the school day.
And it works—incredibly well. As a former teacher, this seems like a no-brainer. The middle school classrooms in which I taught typically had 25-30 students in them, and class periods lasted about 50 minutes. In the best-case scenario, this means that each kid could have no more than two minutes of my undivided attention. Match’s tutors can do what I could only dream of doing: provide each student with two hours of individualized support every day.

But the story doesn’t end there. Match has recently transplanted its math tutoring program into traditional school districts in four cities. Most recently, an op-ed in the New York Times captured the success of the program in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The students who participated experienced positive results ranging from better grades to lower likelihood of being arrested for violent crimes.
Tutoring isn’t exactly a groundbreaking innovation, so I was left wondering: What is different about this tutoring program? I’m sure CPS schools have had volunteers tutoring students for years—why is it working now?
I had the opportunity to speak with Match CEO Stig Leschly to find out. Here are the key takeaways from our conversation:

  1. Match’s tutors are almost wholly focused on teaching. They are not grading papers, they are not doing character building, and they are not running after school programs. They are teaching.
  2. They are committed to tutoring, and only tutoring, for a full year. Well-meaning community members who volunteer to tutor in schools often have jobs or other responsibilities that detract from their ability to be available and consistent over a long period of time. Match’s tutors don’t—they sign up and commit to being a tutor for one academic year.
  3. They are trained and supported. Match’s tutors are part of a larger organization that provides in-depth training on everything from curriculum to behavior management prior to the start of the school year. They have supervisors with whom they check-in, get advice, and ask questions.
  4. They are accountable. Match’s tutors meet regularly with their supervisors, and are expected to build relationships with the students’ families and provide regular updates to students’ families and teachers.
  5. There is a clear educational program. The sessions aren’t ad-hoc and aren’t focused on helping students complete missing or late assignments. Match’s tutors have access to deliberate, sequenced lessons designed to strengthen students’ skills.

Match’s tutoring program changed the life trajectories of the boys who participated. It likely literally saved some lives.
Moreover, it stands as an exciting, promising example of how innovation in the charter sector can be successfully transplanted into the district sector. As Mr. Leschly explained to me, “It’s exciting because it seems that we have been able to extract a strand of our complex school design and locate it in a district setting with results…this is one of the most developed episodes of innovation in the charter sector being disseminated to districts with evidence that it works. It’s a true example of charter schools working as the laboratories they were designed to be.”
The relatively low cost (districts can hire three to four tutors for the price of one classroom teacher) and high return on investment make this program attractive to district superintendents. And its results suggest that while it won’t fix all the challenges faced in Chicago Public Schools or any other urban school district, it has the potential to be a crucial stopgap for thousands of at-risk children and youth in urban districts across the country.
Match plans to leave Chicago in July, placing the future of the program in the hands of the district. If CPS continues to implement the key components of the program with fidelity, it will have a fighting chance to dramatically alter the lives of many of its most at-risk students.

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